a room with a chair and a swing from it

For most of the pandemic, Heathrow Airport, once a global hub of connectivity has been operating at a near standstill, with just two terminals in use. The once buzzing Terminal 3 has been an empty ghost town, with only crew members embarking on cargo flights passing through.

As of May 17th, it appears that’s finally set to truly change, with reports on social media of airline teams actively readying Terminal 3 for passengers, perhaps as soon as the mid-May resumption of travel.

Yep, airlines are currently sending staff into the terminal to dust off those baggage carousels, check in desks and computer systems. All that’s left is official word from the team of unmatched brilliance, wit and charm in UK government, about the resumption of international travel from May 17th, hopefully due before May 17th.

Heathrow Reopening T3 For May 17?

Heathrow Airport has been unfairly condemned in the press as a result of ill advised government border moves, resulting in 6-8 hour queues for international arrivals and tight quarters for all.

Government ministers have failed to account for the lengthy delays, a direct result of understaffing and manual document checks, rather than the digital and more secured document verification used in other countries, which also speed up procedures. Such measures are promised for summer travel, but no beta testing has occurred.

Missed deadlines by the government for an announcement of forthcoming “green, red and orange” traffic light systems for arrivals has also made readying airports ahead of a summer of potentially booming travel, incredibly difficult.

John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow Airport was quoted stating it would take 8 weeks to ready a terminal, from the word go, yet with international travel expected to return on May 17th for the UK, there’s still no word from the government about countries set to enjoy quarantine free arrangements, and so forth.

a room with a chair and a table

For airlines, the struggle has been much the same. Airline like Delta, American, BA and Virgin Atlantic derive most passenger traffic from lucrative US routes, where vaccine initiatives have proven the concept of their efficacy.

it’s hard to ready operations, without knowing the US will be on the ‘green list’. If it is, demand will be immediately felt, and terminals may not even be operational to cope.

Ground Teams Are Working In T3

Yet, a time of perhaps blind, or slightly guided faith in a return of passenger traffic is here. The lights are on in LHR T3, and airline staff from Virgin, British Airways and Delta are already in place dusting off the cobwebs.

Heathrow hopes the terminal will be ready for May 17th, and would allow green list arrivals to use e-gates to quickly get on their way, rather than be subjected to lengthy, unreasonable delays at the border. Plans to use Terminal 4 as a ‘red list’ arrivals hub are reported to be under discussion.

With airline budgets as tight as ever, and Heathrow bemoaning billions in lost revenue, it’s unlikely teams would be working as quickly – or in as great of number, if indications were that a green light wasn’t expected in the next few days.

Airlines Putting Best Foot Forward

Airlines have been displaced from their usual flying quarters at Heathrow, resulting in new experiences for travelers.

Virgin Atlantic flyers will welcome the return of the digs at T3, including the Clubhouse Lounge, for Upper Class and Virgin Atlantic Gold flyers. The space is widely regarded as one of the best business class lounges in the world, yet with T3 closed for nearly a year, it’s been unavailable to the airline.

Emirates, which also previously called Terminal 3 “home”, would also theoretically regain access to their flagship lounge, though it remains to be seen if it opens – based on whether the UAE ends up on the red list.

Airlines such as Cathay Pacific are even less likely to reboot lounge offerings any time soon, with virtually zero passenger traffic between the two cities. American Airlines is likely to remain in Terminal 5 with alliance partner British Airways.

American Express is set to open its first Centurion Lounge in the UK in T3, which could provide an exciting space for Amex Platinum cardholders not traveling in business or first class. It’s unclear exactly when Amex plans to launch the lounge.

an airplane flying over water

What To Make Of It

It’s clear that T3 is reopening, and readying for a return of travel. Exactly where, what -and when is less clear. The UK Government has missed all previous deadlines to unveil travel measures set to kick in on May 17th, but assurances have been made that they’ll be forthcoming soon.

For passengers with flights which would typically depart out of T3, it’s looking all the more likely that they’ll be operating once again from this desirable space soon enough.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Could this just be to handle red list arrivals. I know UK Gov has wanted this for a while.

    1. Absolutely could be, would hate it if so. But seeing teams dusting off check in desks and departure kiosks gave me hope they’re banking on US getting the green light, at least from this end!

  2. For your UK readers, please can you comment on how you think the UK traffic-light system will work for international arrivals, and in particular, comment on the case where incoming passengers need to have taken a Covid test at their departure point. Who is responsible for providing and conducting the test? Is it the airline bringing the passengers to the UK, or their tour/holiday company, or the departure airport itself, or the health authorities of the country being departed from? You can see this going wrong almost immediately, and passengers being unable to get tested through no fault of their own, or being ripped-off left, right, and centre. Lack of clarity regarding who is responsible for testing at departure is a major deterrent to UK people booking any overseas travel at the moment. Has the UK Government even thought this through, or is Grant Shapps an idiot? Your insights gratefully received!

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